Books by Mary Ellin Barrett

IRVING BERLIN by Mary Ellin Barrett
Released: Nov. 1, 1994

Life with father, glossing over the bad times and trumpeting the good. Although billed as a memoir of her father, this is really Barrett's story, a recreation of a protected world of family, and friends, and small, youthful follies. Irving Berlin (18881989) was nearly 40 and already a successful songwriter when he eloped with the 23-year-old society belle Ellin MacKay. The story was widely covered because of the disparity in their backgrounds: he, a Lower East Side Jewish immigrant who worked in the lowly field of ``entertainment''; she, the daughter of wealth and privilege, whose Catholic father cut her out of his will when he learned of her marriage. Their first daughter, Mary Ellin, was born 11 months later, in 1926, and this memoir-autobiography primarily covers the period from her childhood to her marriage. Thus, she misses the dramatic story of Berlin's rise to the top as a Broadway composer; indeed, the coverage of Berlin the musician is slight, limited mostly to memories of opening night jitters and faint tinklings coming from the pianist's study. Barrett touches upon her father's early Hollywood years in the late '20s and early '30s, including his famous scores for the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers vehicles Follow the Fleet and Top Hat, his prewar Broadway triumphs, particularly the hit As Thousands Cheer, a detailed account of his World War IIera labor-of-love production of This Is the Army, taking him to the battlefields of Italy and the South Pacific as performer/promoter/songwriter, his postwar hits, including the classic Annie Get Your Gun, and his final slide into retirement. There are glimpses of Berlin's business dealings, but only as distant rumbles that sometimes disturbed domestic life. Berlin is portrayed as an intensely private, troubled man, either manically creative or deeply depressed, suffering from chronic insomnia, who had only a scanty relationship with his daughter. This memoir succeeds on a small scale, as a daughter's reach across time to recapture her childhood and make a final attempt to connect with her father. (b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >